Earlier this year, a Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico made controversial national headlines because he dared to teach his flock about the sacred importance of marriage. Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan wrote in a pastoral letter:
We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.
First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no “third way” possible for a Christian.
The reaction was swift and brutal. This article did a fine job of giving quality quotes from those who agreed as well as disagreed. Those who disagreed, though, sounded like little more than children pitching a fit because some big bad meanie had the nerve to say that some things are wrong.
“It seems Sheehan has no real interest in persuading or teaching, but rather only punishing those who disagree with him. Oh, and making those who already agree with him happy for ‘laying down the law.’ “
My response to that couldn’t be any better than one at the end of the same article:
“In this age of ‘I’m OK, you’re OK,’ a bishop risks being called mean and uncompassionate if he does anything other than remain silent or wring his hands,” said Zuhlsdorf, a former Lutheran who is completing his doctorate at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome.
“So how do you defend doctrines that many people think are offensive without committing what many people believe is the ultimate sin, which is offending people? . . . Yet this is what bishops are supposed to do – defend the teachings of the church. All of them. The whole package.”
So I just wrote a letter to Archbishop Sheehan applauding him for his courage in doing his duty and loving his flock enough to teach them truth. It’s unfortunate that some have questioned his motives, and have felt that they can “have their cake and eat it , too,” in the sense of doing whatever’s fun and convenient while still wanting to be Catholics in good standing. Certainly the same scenario exists in any congregation: those who scream bloody murder whenever a minister has the audacity to suggest that, you know, churches have beliefs and rules that are important to that church, and transgressing them has spiritual consequences.
I hope my letter gives a bit of cheer and comfort to Archbishop Sheehan. Those of us who defend the primacy of the traditional family are under attack, and we need to build each other up.